“History in and of itself is not fact.” This is the first thing I say at the beginning of all my history courses. “Doing history is not a pursuit of the truth,” I continue. “History is rather an art and doing history is therefore an act of creation.”
My role as a history instructor is not just to foster an appreciation for the subject or to assess whether or not students take away a minimal amount of knowledge about some series of events that makes up the past. My professional duty is to also aid students in understanding that history is a human creation and that doing history is taking part in a creative process. Just like other artforms, doing history requires a certain set of tools and it requires practice. Most importantly, it requires the ability to conceptualize a specific object or idea not in the way that it already exists (or, historically speaking, once existed), but rather in a way that can be articulated in an honest and meaningful expression today. History is an art: it is painted and drawn, spoken and sung, versed and put into prose, but above all, it means something.
Teaching history is as much of an art as history itself. My teaching philosophy is based on the belief that successful learning in history is dependent upon a multidimensional approach to teaching, giving special consideration to student engagement, and combining both historical content and historical practice within the curriculum. My craft is particularly focused on students learning actively to obtain a better understanding of both history and doing history by exploring three main historical concepts: historical significance, continuity and change, and historical empathy. Through hands-on activities involving various primary and secondary sources, students are encouraged to challenge certain perspectives, interpretations, and historical memories that are held about an event, institution, or figure in history. In addition, due focus is given in class to thinking critically and writing effectively—skills that students will be able to use beyond the classroom.
My main goal as a history instructor is not that students memorize the main events, institutions, or figures that have directed the course of history and history learning. My goal is rather to show students how and why the course of history has been directed in the ways that it has. In learning that history is a human creation—an art—students will be able to understand that history means something and that doing history matters. Above all, however, my goal is that students leave my classroom with the knowledge and desire necessary to make history themselves.